sinister

adjective
sin·​is·​ter | \ ˈsi-nə-stər How to pronounce sinister (audio) , archaic sə-ˈni- \

Definition of sinister

1 : singularly evil or productive of evil
2 : accompanied by or leading to disaster
3 : presaging ill fortune or trouble
4a : of, relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something especially : being or relating to the side of a heraldic shield at the left of the person bearing it
b : of ill omen by reason of being on the left
5 archaic : unfavorable, unlucky
6 archaic : fraudulent

Other Words from sinister

sinisterly adverb
sinisterness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for sinister

sinister, baleful, malign mean seriously threatening evil or disaster. sinister suggests a general or vague feeling of fear or apprehension on the part of the observer. a sinister aura haunts the place baleful imputes perniciousness or destructiveness to something whether working openly or covertly. exerting a corrupt and baleful influence malign applies to what is inherently evil or harmful. the malign effects of racism

insidious, sinister, or pernicious?

Few would choose to be associated with people or things that are insidious, sinister, or pernicious; all three of these words have decidedly unpleasant meanings, each with its own particular shade of nastiness.

Insidious comes from a Latin word for “ambush” (insidiae), which is fitting, as this word often carries the meanings “deceitful,” “stealthy,” or “harmful in an imperceptible fashion.” The first two meanings may be applied to people or things (“an insidious enemy,” “an insidious plot”), while the last is usually applied to things (“insidious problems,” “insidious sexism”), in particular to the gradual progress of a disease (“an insidious malignancy”).

Sinister comes from a Latin word meaning “on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious.” Although it is commonly used today in the sense “evil” (“a sinister cult leader”; “a sinister plot”), it may also suggest an ominous foreshadowing of some unfavorable turn of events (“a sinister omen”).

Pernicious has largely stayed true to its etymological root, the Latin noun pernicies “ruin, destruction.” Its original meaning in English, “highly injurious or destructive,” usually applies to things (“pernicious apathy,” “pernicious effects”) and medical conditions (“pernicious fever,” “pernicious anemia”). When applied to people, pernicious means “wicked.”

Is sinister unfair to the left-handed?

Sinister has an etymology that might seem a bit biased against the left-handed portion of the population, as this word, which has had naught but disagreeable meanings for over five hundred years now, comes from a Latin word of the same spelling that means “on the left side.” We find this root in other English words, such as the adjective sinistral (“left-handed”) and the adverb sinistrad (“toward the left side”). To make things even more unfair, the Latin word dexter (“on the right side”) has given rise to English words with largely positive meanings, such as dexterity and ambidextrous.

Examples of sinister in a Sentence

There was something sinister about him. the movie relies too much on sinister background music to create the suspense that the plot sorely lacks
Recent Examples on the Web One thing seemed more sinister than Satanic slogans—the pampered indulgence of the rock lifestyle. Bob Larsen, SPIN, 12 Feb. 2022 The music was slow and sinister, punctuated with plinks and a sound like insects gathering. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2022 James — an interesting matchup for woods because of his more sinister style — raps about coke, dope, and what both of those poisons did to his already turbulent life. Jayson Buford, Rolling Stone, 28 Apr. 2022 Higgins didn’t need the aid of a desaturated color palette to zero in on Sandra’s otherness, but this Black woman’s solitary state in this environment only fuels the sinister nature of the film. Aramide Tinubu, Essence, 28 Jan. 2022 The branding may seem aggressive, even sinister at first glance, but Snaxshot is a benevolent project in more ways than one. Bon Appétit, 20 Apr. 2022 The story’s deeper and sinister undercurrents creep along from the start, camouflaged in the tedium of process. Naveen Kumar, Variety, 17 Apr. 2022 But there’s something sinister lurking in her new husband’s countryside estate. Keely Weiss, Harper's BAZAAR, 15 Apr. 2022 Three women strive to find their place at a prestigious New England university that may disguise something sinister. Travis Bean, Forbes, 18 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sinister.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of sinister

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sinister

Middle English sinistre, from Anglo-French senestre on the left, from Latin sinistr-, sinister on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious

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Time Traveler for sinister

Time Traveler

The first known use of sinister was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near sinister

sinify

sinister

sinister base point

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Last Updated

17 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sinister.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sinister. Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for sinister

sinister

adjective
sin·​is·​ter | \ ˈsi-nəs-tər How to pronounce sinister (audio) \

Kids Definition of sinister

1 : threatening evil, harm, or danger We heard sinister rumors.
2 : evil entry 1 sense 1, corrupt We feared he would do something far more sinister.

More from Merriam-Webster on sinister

Nglish: Translation of sinister for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sinister for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about sinister

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